Por ruelas e calçadas
Da Ribeira até à Foz
I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to produce this travel guide. For those who don’t know, I was born and raised in Portugal. I know those streets, the gastronomy and how to have a great time in the land of happy easy going people, like the palm of my hand.
It wasn’t until I took a friend of mine from work to my hometown, that I actually thought of doing this. I guess ’cause it’s my hometown I didn’t actually think about it. Anyway, she loved Porto and all the little things and non-touristy areas I had to show her. So, here’s a guide o Porto including not only all the instagrammable places but also the little streets and places to eat that aren’t that touristy.
Porto, is located in the Coast of Norwest Portugal. It is the second largest city of Portugal, it is usually recognized for its Port wine production, Dom Luis I bridge and the cool blue patterned tiles. For the past couple of years, Porto has been on the rise. Travellers seem to fall in love with my beautiful old town.
Here, you’ll get to experience Portugal at its finest. Even though there’s been a rise in the number of tourists, it is still not as crowded as Lisbon and Algarve. Porto is the ideal location for a weekend away of a 72-hour trip. Bring on your camera because you’ll get a big dose of architecture and culture. And oh! Be ready to eat and drink loads! Our gastronomy is great!
I might be biased but Porto is quite nice all year round. But having said that, it’s better to visit when the weather is warmer and you’ll have more daylight and sunshine. From May to October, it should be a whole lot warmer and sunny. March is also quite nice, but in April it tends to rain loads and the Portuguese actually have a saying – “Em Abril águas mil” which translated it means “In April, thousand waters” but I guess it sort of has the same meaning as “April showers bring May flowers”.
If you’re looking into going to the beach it’s better to travel in July, August and beginning of September when the weather is nice for sunbathing. But if culture/ living like a local is what you’re looking for, then I highly recommend visiting during São João (June 23d), which is probably one of the largest traditional street parties in the city. It’s probably one of the happiest and most colourful times of the year, full of nice food, booze and parties.
As Nancy Sinatra said, “These boots are made for walkin’!”. Not even kidding, the best way to explore Porto is actually by foot even though the transport system is great. Porto has Metro, Bus, Elevator (funicular), Train, Sky cable, Tram, Hop on/off buses, taxis and Uber. But like I said above, the best way to explore Porto is to walk, it is quite hilly but you get the best viewpoints and find the best-hidden gems this way.
From Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport
When you arrive, you have three options of transport to get to the city centre.
Metro to Trindade – 32 minutes – 2€
First train 05:58 Last train 00:34
Taxi/ Uber to Trindade – 15 minutes – 20 to 25 €
Bus to Trindade or Aliados – 45 minutes – 2€
Day- Bus n.º602 Night- Bus n.º 3M
Getting around the city
São Bento Railway station
Start your day here, in São Bento Railways Station, the 20th-century railway in Porto. Inside, the walls covered with mainly illustrative blue and white tiles, although you can find other coloured patterned tiles. If you look closely, the illustrations on the tiles represent not only the history of transportation but also former battles.
From here you can also get trains to other parts of Portugal such as Braga, Coimbra, Lisboa and so many other stations. Even if you’re not travelling anywhere, be sure to pay it a visit it is worth it. Embrace de history!
Avenida dos aliados
Within a few minutes and just a quick stroll up, you’ll find Avenida dos Aliados which is the heart of the city. A quite uphill promenade, surrounded by Grand builds which are mainly Hotels and Banks, all lead up to the palatial Town Hall (the white building you see in the picture above).
At the bottom of Avenida dos Aliados, you’ll see a statue, that is King Pedro IV riding a horse. Oh and while you’re around here there are two places you need to pay a visit, Guarany which is one of the oldest and historical cafe. Also, make sure to visit McDonald’s. Yes, I really meant McDonald’s! It is believed by most travellers that it is the most beautiful McDonalds in the WORLD, it has loads of chandeliers and prime art deco architecture.
Clérigos tower & Lello Bookshop & Praça dos Leões
From Avenida dos Aliados, take a deep breath and power through the uphill Clerigos Street. At the very top, you’ll find the Baroque Clérigos Church and the tower which you can see from multiple points of the city and is one of its most characteristic symbols of the city. The Tower is more than 75 meters high, to reach the top of the tower and get a 360º view of the city will have to climb 225 steps.
My fellow “Geeks”, what’s your Hogwarts house?! If you’re a Harry Potter fan this is the place to visit, it looks like it’s straight from Hogwarts. In the last decade, Livraria Lello has been officially recognized as “one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world” by the magazine Time, The Guardian, and Lonely Planet. For the fans of Harry Potter, JK Rowling wrote the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when she lived in Porto. When you’re in the bookstore you can feel the vibe of Harry Potter in every single corner, in every step of the red-carpeted staircase.
Guess it must be time for a lunch stop, head over to Praça dos Leões and eat in a typical Portuguese café or restaurant. Hey! Ask for the “Menu do Dia”, it’s usually what the locals eat and it tends to have one meat and one fish option, another plus its the price as it tends to be cheaper. Meals tend to be under 10 Euros, and we’re talking about large meal portions.
Praça dos Leões is also one of the meeting points for most University students when they’re going out and it’s also where most tourist tours depart from too. This pretty square is home to one of the most beautiful churches in Porto. Carmo Church, located near the Clerigos Tower, is a Baroque / Rococo style church built in the second half of the eighteenth century. The side facade is lined with a glorious blue tile panel where no tile is the same, this is where most Instagram models take their hyper-saturated photos wearing long flowy dresses (jk*).
Carmo Church & Window shopping in Cedofeita
Just a few steps from Praça dos Leões is Carmo Church. One of my friends just got married there this year, and believe it or not it was actually the second time in life I’d been there. Maybe you won’t recognize the name but i’m sure you’ll recognize the tile facade from instagram. The side facade is lined with a glorious blue tile panel where no tile is the same, this is where most instagram models take their hyper saturated photos wearing long flowy dresses (jk*).
The baroque Church has a twin, right next to it and it’s called Carmelitas Church. Fun fact, they’re separated by a tiny 1-meter wide house that was only built so that the two churches would not share a common wall in order to prevent connections between the nuns of Igreja dos Carmelitas and the monks of Igreja do Carmo.
Done with taking pictures crossing the street with the blue coloured background? Seen both churches? Turn the corner and take a little stroll down Cedofeita Street and do some window shopping or perhaps take a moment to drink a Café (espresso) and eat a pastel de nata (custard tart). In Cedofeita street you’ll find a mix of stores, from high street brands, DIY stores, a cereal shop, schools and souvenirs shops.
D. Luís I Bridge
The Dom Luís I Bridge is a double-deck metal arch bridge that connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. Funnily enough, it looks quite centered but it’s actually located at the border of Porto. If you start crossing the top tier of the bridge when you get to the center of it you get a privileged view of the entire city of Porto to your right and Gaia to your left. Side note, be careful because the tram passes through the top tier every 3 to 4 minutes.
Cross the top tier of Dom Luis I bridge all you’ll get to Jardim do Morro where you can do quite a few activities. But one of my favorite things to do there is to watch the sunset, just sit in the slightly hilly park with your fave drink or if it’s during Autumn be sure to eat some roasted chestnuts to warm your body. There are always street performers over there, but my absolute fave is a bossa nova singer that is there all year round, and there’s nothing better than this combo: bossa nova + chestnuts and sunset… uhhhh my fave!
From here, you can take the cable car to “Cais de Gaia” which is where you can find all the port wineries and restaurants. So, after watching the sunset, be sure to find yourself a nice restaurant where you can enjoy francesinha. Oh to my veggie friends, fear no more, ’cause there are a few spots in Porto where you can eat Vegan Francesinha.
*At some point, I’ll do a lil guide for my veggie friends of my fave places to eat in Porto.
Also known as Porto Cathedral, is the best known church in the city and also the city’s most important church. It is a National Monument, that was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It has a gothic architectures so be sure to look out for the gothic cloister, the chapel frescoes, the Teixeira Lopes sculpture in the baptistery and the medieval portrait of Our Lady of Vandoma, the city’s patron saint. When locals talk about the ‘Sé’, they don’t just mean the cathedral: the name also applies to the historic district at Porto’s heart. Wander its streets, keep Google Maps turned off and you’ll thank us for it.
The Cathedral sits on a square with a column in the middle, where in the past the criminals were hanged. Because it was built at the highest point of the city it offers impressive views over the city, the Douro River and the wine cellars along the riverfront. It’s free to visit the Cathedral, however you pay 3€ to visit the Cloister. Because of mass, of Sundays you can only visit in the afternoon unless you’re looking into joining the mass.
Crystal palace gardens
Crystal place, also known in Portuguese as Palácio de Cristal, gets its cool name from glass, iron, and granite structure. This structure was designed by Thomas Dillen Jones inspired in James Paxton’s design, a pavilion created in Hyde Park for the 1851 London’s Great Exhibition. Cool, hey?
The gardens are gorgeous, they have a variety of trees and exotic plants spread around the park. You can also find little lakes, towers, and picturesque walking paths. The landscape from the terraces is to die for, you get some magnificent views of Douro river, Porto, and Vila Nova de Gaia. On the first terrace, there’s a gorgeous rose garden and camellia garden too.
They have a lil kids playground if you’re bringing kids along, there’s also a small cafe and an ice-cream van on site.
Ribeira & Cais de Gaia
Ribeira, also known as Porto’s riverside quarter, is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and certainly one of the city’s highlights. Historically the quayside was one of the busiest points on the Douro with cargo, however, nowadays it’s just a hangout point and where the tourists get on their tour boats. From Ribeira, you have a majestic view of the Dom Luis I bridge since the bottom tier starts there. There are also some beautiful narrow medieval streets and alleys that you can explore.
Cais de Gaia has lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, and wineries for your enjoyment. From this side of the river, you can see the bridge, and you can also watch the most gorgeous sunset. There is pedestrian access to the top tier of the bridge (60m high), over there there’s a little park where you can enjoy a picnic or just seat down to rest from the hike up.